Emotional maturity begins with being aware of what we’re feeling. That awareness often begins in our bodies, with what we feel physically. For instance, I know that when my back muscles – from the neck through the shoulders and down to the lower back – are tight and hurting that I am feeling anxious, worried, frustrated, maybe angry. When I’m aware of that, I often realize that I’m frowning a lot and that my hands and forearms also are tight because I’ve been literally holding on to those feelings, trying to “get a grip.”
Relaxation exercises will increase my emotional maturity – my ability to be responsive rather than reactive – at any given moment. Whether I am sitting, standing, or lying down, I relax the muscles in my body beginning from the top of my head and working down to the soles of my feet, and up again. My way of doing this is to first tighten an area of muscles (my scalp, eyes, facial muscles, ears) a bit, then relax them. Do that two or three times in each place. Do the same with my jaw and neck and upper shoulders. And so on down the body. As I do this, I also breathe deeply and slowly. And I imagine some pleasant scene, some place I enjoy being, someone I enjoy being with.
This relaxation exercise takes only a few minutes and can quickly achieve a lower level of anxiety and stress at the moment. Joining the physical with the spiritual exercise of prayer, offering gratitude to God for what is good in life, and with a meditation on a scripture of grace and gratitude, can enhance the effect of the physical exercise.
Whenever you are aware of being especially anxious, frustrated, angry, try this simple exercise. Then you will be better prepare to respond appropriately to some person or situation in your life which may be generating those feelings within you.